Balkan Trafik: New trends and one prominent online festival

Author: Merima Uštović-Kapetanović 

I haven’t been to a live concert for more than two years, so when I saw the invitation to Balkan Trafik, I was a little bit excited. Balkan Trafik Festival celebrated this year its 15th anniversary. It aims to bring Western Balkan closer to European Union through culture, cartoons, dance, and films, bringing together communities and highlighting European diversity. This year’s celebration took place online in a 360° Digital Format, reflecting the state of the world since the outbreak of the pandemic, offering online exhibitions, debates, and three nights of live Balkan music from 22nd to 24th April. Thursday night was defined as a rock night with ska/punk flavour and three bands: Gipsy Groove, The Rocking Beez feat Amparo Shanchez and Nele Karajlić, and Dubioza Kolektiv, which are known to me primarily because of the cooperation with Manu Chao, and satirical songs that reflect Bosnian reality. 

Friday night was dedicated to Jazz with urban music flavour, when we met Naked, Balkan Jazzović Quintet feat. Theodosii Spassov & Ibrahim Maalouf and Bernard Orchestar. I need to say that Naked was an incredible discovery for me, and I’m looking forward to hearing them in a live performance. And Saturday night was introducing Balkan Beat music with ska/punk flavour, when we met Mec Yek, Zdob și Zdub, Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar and Stereo Banana in whose description says that they are Balkan Chemical Brothers. Chemical Brothers are the duo of my childhood, so I was more than excited to hear the Balkan version of their sound.

Online concerts – completely different feeling  

I prepared myself to act and feel normal as if this online event were always a part of my life. And after I saw all of the online exhibitions, I felt like looking at graffiti of the tree on the concrete wall beneath a blossomed one in the early springtime. My lack of understanding of online exhibitions also comes from living with an artist and a toddler, so my everyday life is some kind of exhibition, on canvas or on the floor.  I knew about these online fests and concerts. Still, I realized that I see them the same as at the online exhibition - if you can’t smell it, it is better to listen to everyday music you are fond of because you can never feel the festival online. But, it is Balkan Trafik’s online story that interested me more than online concerts. From this festival, you could see how much youth is losing because of the pandemic. I remember my high school and college time; we wanted to party whenever we could. To be more specific, we wanted to party, do the exams, and then party again. 

Party at home 

Now, you can party in your home. There is an amazing YouTube video of a DJ streaming from his kitchen, and his parents are dancing. It is great to see parents so good at parenthood and being the biggest fans of their son, but, sadly, people who are fond of his music can now listen to his beats only in their rooms. Before the pandemic, we also had an amazing time listening to YouTube concerts, but those were the concerts that we, probably, will never see in a live performance. Like that of Iron Maiden in Argentina. Also, Buenos Aires is specific. Their public is the main singer and the drummer, they are starting and finishing every song and the greatest bands of our time are just enjoying being part of that. If you haven’t seen it, find it and look at the glory of Argentina at concerts.

Thursday night was special. I have always been fond of gypsy music, but gypsy music with the taste of Nele Karajlić, who looks like he has escaped from the South Park version of Spaghetti Western, was painful, and after that, everything was in the shadow of that moment. I can say that all of the bands acted like they were on a live concert and had a crowd in front of them like the one from Argentina stadium. Still, my lack of understanding or maybe lack of preparation ruined my personal experience of these online festival concerts. However, I will not boldly go into describing the shows because music taste is an individual matter.

How to connect the Balkans and Brussels? 

But, you can try to act like you are not in the pandemic, and you cannot sound like you are planetary popular if your goal is to connect people who are listening to you in their living rooms across Europe. You need to change something; you need to try to find a common language with people who listen to your live sound through the wire. Maybe my expectations were big, but when you try to connect people in Brussels and the Balkans through your music online, why don’t you find some songs that are popular in both places and remake them with your own sound? 

The idea of connecting people through online exhibitions and concerts is fantastic, but probably the best thing was live debate; even debate was part of somebody’s interests. If you like the modern Balkan sound, you will enjoy it. Otherwise, it is as painful as somebody brave enough to call themselves Balkan Chemical Brothers, but it sounds like a cat walking on the piano chords. Or, maybe, I forgot how to do concerts.